Thomas Kinsella

See below for information on O'Rahilly together with the poem by him that Kinsella is drawing on and Kinsella's translation of it.


The Poet Egan O'Rahilly, Homesick in Old Age

He climbed to his feet in the cold light, and began
The decrepit progress again, blown along the cliff road,
Bent with curses above the shrew his stomach.

The salt abyss poured through him, more raw
With every laboured, stony crash of the waves:
His teeth bared at their voices, that incessant dying.

Iris leaves bent on the ditch, unbent,
Shivering in the wind: leaf-like spirits
Chattered at his death-mark as he passed.

He pressed red eyelids: aliens crawled
Breaking princely houses in their jaws;
Their metal faces reared up, chewing at light.

'Princes overseas, who slipped away
In your extremity, no matter where I travel
I find your great houses like stopped hearts.

Likewise your starving children -- though I nourish
Their spirit, and my own, on the lists of praises
I make for you still in the cooling den of my craft.

Our enemies multiply. They have recruited the sea:
Last night, the West's rhythmless waves destroyed my sleep;
This morning, winkle and dogfish persisting in the stomach . . .'


Aogán Ó Rathaille (c. 1675 - 1729)

Aogán Ó Rathaille was born in Screathan an Mhil (Scrahanaveel), in the rugged Sliabh Luachra district some ten miles east of Killarney. He appears to have received a good formal schooling, being versed in Latin and English as well as in Irish literature and history. His parents -- due perhaps to some marriage connection with the Egans, traditional ollaves to the McCarthymore family -- seem to have been reasonably prosperous; they may have held the rentals of a large parcel of land from Sir Nicholas Browne for a modest fee.

The Brownes, of old Elizabethan planter stock, were Catholic, Jacobite and favourable to the native Irish. After the defeat of King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, their vast estates (c. 400,000 acres) were confiscated for the lifetime of Sir Nicholas. Ó Rathaille, in consequence, had to leave his native district. He lived for a time in poor circumstances at Tonn Tóime, at the edge of Castlemaine Harbour, some twelve miles west of Killarney (poem no. 45).

For all his close links with the Brownes, Ó Rathaille was more emotionally involved with the McCarthys, whom the Brownes supplanted (and thereafter often supported). This twin -- and sometimes contradictory -- allegiance caused a tension in his poetry which he does not seem to have resolved until the end of his life (poem no. 53).

His poetry, the best of which has a heroic desolation and grandeur, is in many ways a result of his effort to come to terms with the chaos in which he and his people found themselves. Ó Rathaille is buried with the McCarthys in Muckross Abbey, Killarney.


Aogán Ó Rathaille


Is Fada Liom Oíche Fhírfhliuch

Is fada liom oíche fhírfhliuch gan suan, gan srann,
gan ceathra, gan maoin caoire nd buaibh na mbeann;
anfa ar toinn taoibh liom do bhuair mo cheann,
's nár chleachtas im naíon fíogaigh ná ruacain abhann.

Dá maireadh an rí dionmhar ó bhruach na Leamhan
's an ghasra do bhí ag roinn leis 1ér thrua mo chall
i gceannas na gcríoch gcaoin gcluthar gcuanach gcam,
go dealbh i dtír Dhuibhneach níor bhuan mo chlann.

An Carathach groí fíochmhar Iér fuadh an mheang
is Carathach Laoi i ndaoirse gan fuascladh fann;
Carathach, rí Chinn Toirc, in uaigh 's a chlann,
's is atuirse trím chroí gan a dtuairisc ann.

Do shearg mo chroí im chlíteach, do bhuair mo leann,
na seabhaic nár fríth cinnte, agár dhual an eang
ó Chaiseal go Toinn Chlíona 's go Tuamhain thall,
a mbailte's a dtír díthchreachta ag sluaghaibh Gall.

A thonnsa thíos is airde géim go hard,
meabhair mo chinnse cloíte ód bhéiceach tá;
cabhair dá dtíodh arís ar Éirinn bhán,
do ghlam nach binn do dhingfinn féin id bhráid.


The Drenching Night Drags On


The drenching night drags on: no sleep or snore,
no stock, no wealth of sheep, no horned cows.
This storm on the waves nearby has harrowed my head
-- I who ate no winkles or dogfish in my youth!

If that guardian King from the bank of the Leamhan lived on,
with all who shared his fate (and would pity my plight)
to rule that soft, snug region, bayed and harboured,
my people would not stay poor in Duibhne country.

Great Carthy, fierce and fine, who loathed deceit;
with Carthy of the Laoi, in yoke unyielding, faint;
and Carthy King of Ceann Toirc with his children, buried;
it is bitterness through my heart they have left no trace.

My heart has dried in my ribs, my humours soured,
that those never-niggardly lords, whose holdings ranged
from Caiseal to Cliona's Wave and out to Thomond,
are savaged by alien hordes in land and townland.

You wave down there, lifting your loudest roar,
the wits in my head are worsted by your wails.
If help ever came to lovely Ireland again
I'd wedge your ugly howling down your throat!

From An Duanaire: An Irish Anthology: 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed   edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 1981)